Prof Shankar Pathak, Retired Professor Of Social Work, Department Of Social Work, Delhi University, Delhi.
He was also Director, Field Work for four years and Founder -Director of Child Guidance Center- a Field Action Project
Excerpts from the interview with Prof Pathak
Hemalatha: How important are Field Action Projects (FAPs) to become a criterion for quality assessment of education in social work
Prof, Pathak: It is quite a difficult question. Without field work there cannot be social work education. If you search the meaning for 'Social' in any Dictionary, you may find various words, especially you will get the word 'Society'. In its widest sense 'anything that you do in society can be considered as social, However, there is a restricted meaning which is used when we refer to social work. Coming to FAPs, it may become necessary if there are no good agencies in an adequate number to place and train students. Good agencies may also not be available to students for field work placement for a variety of reasons. FAPs become necessary then.
Hemalatha: Professional (social work) education would mean that you have your own lab, as a medical college has. The comparison is always with medicine. If a medical college has an attached laboratory, a social work dept, should also be in a position to have its own field action projects which will be the live labs for its students. Would you agree?
Prof Pathak: Not quite. The students need to have opportunities for adequate practical experience to acquire knowledge and skills. It must be noted that no institution can run its entire field work programme only through FAPs.
Hemalatha: NAAC provides teachers who are mere academicians to have opportunities to be practitioners…. And especially people like us who are so interested in academics and class room work, if we have a field action project, we will also have an opportunity to practice. Would you agree to that?
Prof Pathak: Yes. It provides an opportunity to practice, if teacher are motivated to do so. This may not happen even when opportunities are there, without motivation.
I would like to mention here that Dr. G.R.Banerjee used to work directly with a selected number of cases at the Family Welfare Agency in Bombay – An FAP initiated by her, not by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Hemalatha: For an academician who has been working in the university for all your life, did you miss being a practitioner and did field action projects make you in some way become a practitioner?
Prof Pathak: The point here is whether you have time to do it? If you are overloaded with academic work, which involves moving around the city, spending time without transport facility of your own it may be difficult to practice, you should get motivated to do this. When you are so busy with research, publications, articles and such other things, why should you waste your time in practice? Do you get anything out of it? There is no return or zero return. So, there is a no motivation to practice which does not offer any academic benefit.
Hemalatha: Doctors who teach in a medical college are paid extra money so that they don't practice. They call it as 'non-practice allowance'. Social workers are of different breed, Isn't that wrong having doctors without practice in a hospital?
Prof Pathak: No. he is practicing in the hospital. non- practicing allowance is for 'no private practice', where he earns more money. The point here is why you should you hold the medical profession as an ideal? That is the 'original sin' in social work. Abraham Flexner said so and social workers began to accept it that 'yes' we should be like medical professionals. Medical profession is a biological profession. science, tests and all those things are different.
Knowledge is not only generated in the classroom, research or text books. Knowledge is generated in the field by a practitioner with or without training. If you are specialized in HRD and you are working as a social worker in a rural area, what is the relevance of HRD there? Knowledge is acquired through practice whoever might be the practitioner, whatever the specialization. *
Some of the personal experiences of Prof Pathak
As a Professor in Delhi School of Social Work, Prof Pathak was able to initiate several activities at the TB hospital which was the largest in Asia. Prof was able to intervene in ways that are never found in any text but with his intuitive understanding of the mental makeup of the patients. Infact while supervising students at the Lady Harding Hospital and Irwin hospital (now LNJP hospital). Prof Pathak was able to intervene as a professional to take cases forwards when his students could not cross the hump during case interventions. These illustrations were discussed during the interview to reiterate the fact that there are ample opportunities for teachers to be hands-on practitioners even in the midst of hectic academic activities.
When Prof Pathak was still a student, Prof. Banerjee herself appointed him as a part-time staff social worker at the Child Guidance Clinic run by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Dr. Banerjee was the Honorary Director) a rare honour.
During the emergency(1975-1976) slum dwellers in Delhi were forcibly removed and loaded into trucks like cattle and un-loaded far away 20-25 kms in an open space during the hot summer month of June with little basic amenities like protection from the sun, water, etc. Delhi School of Social work (as it was then known) chose to place its students for field work in that challenging field situation. Prof Pathak was then Director of Field Work. There was a South Indian weaver community from Tamilnadu, who were considered "non-Co operative" by the administration of this project. A Tamil speaking student was placed for field work in that community. Prof Pathak personally worked as an urban community social worker, along with the student, guiding and supporting the student, working on Sundays. When the student's. field work was over, Prof Pathak continued to work for some time to complete the tasks undertaken by the student. A part of this work is recorded in the book edited by R.R.Singh- mentioned below.
*For an elaboration of this, refer- Shankar Pathak, "Doing Without Knowing" A Note on Knowledge, Theory and Practice, in R.R.Singh. Editor, Field Work in Social Work Education. Concept- Publication-New Delhi 1985.
Dr. K. Hemalatha
Deptt. of Social Work, Christ University, Bangalore - 560029
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